Monday, May 20, 2024

England upbeat on Smith and Mitchell fitness before Ireland Six Nations date

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England are confident Marcus Smith will be available for the game with Ireland on Saturday week as they look to salvage their Six Nations campaign. In a further boost for Steve Borthwick he could be joined by Alex Mitchell.

After England’s capitulation to Scotland on Saturday, Borthwick needs some positive news and the potential return of the half-backs he intended to start from the outset of the championship would be a timely shot in the arm.

Smith has missed England’s three matches having suffered a calf injury during the training camp in Girona before the opening win against Italy. It is understood the 25-year-old fly-half was to be England’s first choice No 10 throughout the competition.

Mitchell started England’s wins against Italy and Wales but suffered a knee injury in training last week and missed the 30-21 defeat by Scotland. Initial fears were that he would miss the entire championship but ­Borthwick has revealed he is on course to return before its conclusion, and may even appear against Ireland.

In Smith’s absence George Ford has started all three matches at fly-half. Had Smith been fit, it is perhaps unlikely Ford would have been involved, with Borthwick determined to blood Fin Smith from the bench. Ford struggled against Scotland, as did Danny Care at scrum-half, and Borthwick’s frustration that England deviated from their gameplan at Murrayfield after an impressive opening 20 minutes was an indictment of the half-backs.

Ireland are the dominant force of this Six Nations – so much so that a bonus-point win at Twickenham would wrap up the title with a round to spare. After England’s fourth consecutive Calcutta Cup defeat, Borthwick spoke of the need to strike a balance between making changes and sticking by his players in the hope of building cohesion. “I’m very hopeful that Marcus will be available for selection, for this latter part of the tournament,” he said.

The scrum-half Alex Mitchell, pictured on the attack in England’s win against Wales, is racing to be fit for the Six Nations encounter with Ireland. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

“We’ve had positive news on Alex Mitchell’s injury too, so hopefully he will feature in the latter part of the tournament too. Whether that’s the next game or the last one, I’m not sure.

“There is a balance through this period of giving the players the time to develop and the time to understand the relationships that are required and also for us to develop as a team. Whilst also ensuring we make the changes that are required and deal with injuries and bumps and bruises.”

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England have lost their past four matches against Ireland and have been emphatically beaten on each occasion. Andy Farrell’s side are bidding to become the first side to win back-to-back Six Nations grand slams and, thanks to Tadhg Beirne’s late try against Wales on Saturday, remain on course to become the first side to clinch a clean sweep with five bonus-point victories.

Borthwick will hold a “thorough and honest” review when England reconvene in York on Wednesday before turning attentions to Ireland. “We’ve got two weeks trying to work out how we beat them,” said the back-rower, Ben Earl. “They’re probably one of the top two, three teams in the world but I have full confidence that our leaders in the squad and the coaches will come up with a solution on how to beat them.”

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